Fluro against the wall

From New Zealand Society, 3:30 pm on 23 October 2015

Daniela Maoate-Cox daniela.maoate-cox@radionz.co.nz

Your aunty, cousin, and a police officer walk up to a bar but this time the joke’s on you.

They’re part of New Zealand’s first Pasifika Patrol, walking Wellington’s streets to make sure you and your mates don’t end your night with a sleepover in the cells.

On this evening the group of five weaving through the night market is smaller than normal.

Patrol co-ordinator, Josh Pederson, laughs it off as a casualty of the Rugby World Cup matches but in reality, the patrollers are out and about on top of a normal work week.

“Obviously we all have families, we all have jobs, we all have lives and this is voluntary work” he says.

The slightly warmer weather has drawn people to the streets earlier. By nine o'clock the patrol has already run into a regular, who serenades them as they walk by, and calmed down a drunk man trying to fight his way into a bar.

Many would be nervous about breaking up a street brawl but the patrollers are trained how to dissolve aggressive situations armed with just radios, fluro, and a calm voice.

“If we do see people approaching us and they are a bit louder than other people walking down the street, we can use tactics such as just standing and watching,” Josh says.

“What you’ll find is they’ll notice us watching and they’ll calm right down... usually we’ll get a wave, or a hello and a sorry and we haven’t even had to say anything.”

Josh’s day job is at Police National Headquarters and like many others in the patrol he plans on joining the police.

But the 30 or so members also includes retirees, students, and mums who have been sacrificing their Saturday nights since March this year. They mostly warn people of liquor ban infringements, prevent street brawls, and if necessary, notify the police of any raucous behaviour.

It’s the brainchild of Constable Loretta Hunt-Tevaga who noticed increasing numbers of Pasifika people getting into trouble.

“I came across a lot of Pasifika people coming to the attention of police so I thought it would be good to get a Pasifika patrol group together and although they don’t specifically deal with Pasifika, they are still there.”

She says there is something about having a figure that resembles your aunty or cousin that resonates with the public.

“These are really good people, they go to church, they’re students at university or college but it’s the alcohol that affects them in different ways which causes the fighting or assaults.”

The patrol’s positive effect on curbing naughty behaviour has led to businesses requesting it comes out on a Friday evening as well.

“There’s quite a few youth and street people out at that time.” Loretta says. “So the mamas will be out and I’m sure they’ll have a really good effect on the youth and hopefully they’ll be shown the respect they deserve and they’ll make some changes.”

But the focus isn’t just on wagging the finger at those who are misbehaving.

Josh says it’s also about building friendly and lasting relationships to gain the public’s trust.

“People know that we are there to help and they’ll notify us of a situation or what’s going on. They are usually willing to speak or sometimes they just ask who we are.”

“Our main thing is to be friendly and to approach people with an open attitude and happy personality and be there to help…We’re not there to be authority figures, we’re just there to help.“

Find out more about Community Patrols of New Zealand.

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